Commenter Pat Boyle writes:
Ah, Herb Caen. I haven’t thought about him in years but at the time I thought about him every day. Everybody did. Part of it was that The San Francisco Chronicle was such a lousy newspaper. Everyone read his column because no one bothered with reading the editorial page.
Caen was known to everyone including the police. I know this because one night I was driving home to my apartment on Russian Hill and I was rear ended (mildly) while stopped at a stop sign. I was completely innocent and the guy who hit me was completely and irrefutably at fault.
Unfortunately he was some kind of big wig in the SF police department. Several street cops drove up and I knew I was in trouble when all of them saluted this guy and said ‘sir’ a lot.
So the guy who ran into me was let go and I was arrested. It seems I had an overdue parking ticket from a year ago in Daly City (a nearby suburb) . That’s how I ended up staying most of the night at the police station. The cops wouldn’t take a check or a credit card and I didn’t have enough cash on me. I was truly stuck.
Then I hit on the solution. I made the preposterous claim that I was Herb Caen’s nephew and if not immediately released everyone would read about this whole embarrassing incident tomorrow morning in my uncle’s column.
Never doubt the power of the press. I was let go and spent the rest of the night at home in my own bed. Thanks, Herb.
Herb Caen was really famous for a local columnist, almost as famous as Mike Royko in Chicago. He is said to have coined the term “beatnik” and made “hippie” famous.
Caen did kind of a pointillistic column of gossip and offhand observations, six days per week, 25 or so items totaling a thousand words per day for roughly ever: 1938 to 1996, approximately. Something like 17 million words.